Dáil Éireann - Volume 408 - 14 May, 1991

Dublin Bus Company.

Mr. Byrne: As I am sure the Minister is aware, the Dublin Bus Company are losing money at the rate of about £2 million a year and their problems are being compounded by a loss of passengers. Dublin Bus have argued that they can no longer guarantee an efficient service due to our traffic choked streets. The only real way to reverse this trend is to allow public transport, and in particular the Dublin Bus Company to provide a passenger service which meets the [1036] requirements of commuters. This will require making decisions which discriminate against car driving commuters, particularly at peak times, in favour of the users of public transport. Public transport must be made attractive enough to entice back those people who have abandoned it in favour of their cars.

Dublin Bus are facing a crisis not because of a lack of competition from other bus companies but because of neglect by this and previous Governments. Despite some improvements and the positive efforts made to make buses a more attractive form of transport the alarm bells are ringing in regard to the viability of Dublin Bus. I call on the Government to take these warnings seriously. I ask the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications and the Minister for the Environment to co-ordinate their policies to the benefit of Dublin Bus and their commuters.

I was astounded to hear the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications say at Question Time today that he believed competition for Dublin Bus would improve transport for the people of Dublin. This is a farcical statement as Dublin Bus are already in competition with an ever growing number of private motorists. It does not make sense to those who use buses that the Minister seems to want to add to the congestion on our roads by encouraging the use of private buses. People will not opt to use private buses if they have to travel at the same speed as Dublin Bus and join the same traffic jams. The slower the bus services, the more attractive it will be for people to use their cars. This gives rise to the vicious cycle where Dublin Bus lose passengers, demand a greater subvention and increase their bus fares, thus giving rise to a loss of even more passengers.

What is the use of competition if commuters are stuck in traffic jams? Unless we allow buses to move more quickly through our streets and attempt to make the service more punctual, clean and efficient, the number of car registrations, which topped the one million mark last year will continue to increase with the [1037] resultant pollution from car fumes. At peak hours traffic in city streets comes to a standstill. We in The Workers' Party have called again and again for the reestablishment of the Dublin Transport Authority, to co-ordinate and plan traffic management needs for the capital. Illegal parking and the disregard for parking regulations are causing havoc. We need to introduce a rigorous programme, as demanded by Dublin Bus, of wheel clamping of illegally parked cars, and increased fines. The anti-social behaviour of private motorists on a daily basis must end.

In the past few years Dublin Bus started to get their act together to meet the demands of the Dublin commuter. In the past Dublin Bus and management largely contributed to the poor image and poor service the company provided. Both unions and management are agreed that Dublin Bus must move towards the position where they can move the maximum number of commuters comfortably, rapidly, reliably and as cheaply as possible.

An Ceann Comhairle: I would he grateful if the Deputy would bring his speech to a conclusion.

Mr. Byrne: An injection of good management ideas coupled with the source of knowledge within the workforce can produce a quality sevice for the people of Dublin. We in The Workers' Party do not wish to see taxpayers' money thrown at problems for the sake of it. Every pound spent should be properly accounted for in providing a valuable service to the public. The State subsidy to Dublin Bus, at 17 per cent of costs, is the lowest in any European capital city.

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Transport and Communications (Mr. Lyons): I am glad of the opportunity to deal with this matter if for no other reason than to put at rest some of the wild, dangerous statements that have been made arising from a meeting held yesterday.

At the outset I would like to explain [1038] that the financial position of Bus Átha Cliath is in the first instance a matter for the board of CIE, the bus company's shareholder. In this regard, an Extraordinary General Meeting of Bus Átha Cliath was held on 20 February 1991 in compliance with the 1983 Companies (Amendment) Act to notify CIE that the net assets of Bus Átha Cliath are less than half of their called-up share capital.

However, I want to emphasise in this context that there is no question of a financial crisis in Bus Átha Cliath. The company are trading normally and are meeting all their obligations as they arise.

The references in the media to the financial position of Bus Átha Cliath have arisen from a presentation made by the new managing director of the company to the Dublin Corporation Sub-Committee. This presentation was made in response to a request from the sub-committee for Bus Átha Cliath to discuss the company's plans for improved public transport in Dublin city.

In the course of the presentation, the managing director emphasised the need for improvements in the trading performance of Bus Átha Cliath and added that the company could not continue to incur losses over the next four years on the basis experienced in the past, without facing a serious problem.

Bus Átha Cliath were not announcing a crisis in their finances, but sounding a warning for the future in relation to the need to improve revenue and control costs so as to secure and consolidate the trading basis of the company. These comments were made as a prelude to the discussion with the sub-committee on future bus transport options for the city. I support the company's remarks and would encourage the company in the future to take every step possible to improve their financial performance.

More generally, I would emphasise that the Government are committed to the provision of an efficient and cost-effective public transport system. In this regard, the Exchequer subvention to CIE in 1991 in respect of essential public transport services will amount to nearly £110 million, that is over £2 million per week [1039] and this level of assistance is very sizeable.

Mr. Byrne: We are talking about Dublin Bus, not CIE.

Mr. Lyons: I did not interrupt the Deputy when he was speaking. It is a matter for the board of CIE as to how they allocate the Exchequer subvention to individual companies within the group. There cannot be a question of additional Exchequer funds being made available to CIE in 1991.

Since the Government took office we have refused a number of applications from CIE for fare increases. Instead, the need for further cost economies within their operations and improved marketing to maintain the cost of public transport to the travelling public and to the Exchequer at as low a level as possible has been stressed.

However, CIE recently had to bear substantial increases in fuel costs as a result of the Gulf crisis. As these fuel costs were exceptional and entirely outside the control of the group, the Government recognised that some increase in fares, as an exceptional measure, would have to be considered. Accordingly, approval was given to CIE to increase their bus and rail fares by an average of 7 per cent with effect from 17 December 1990. This was the first general fares increase since January 1988. The fares increase will substantially enhance CIE's existing revenues and in particular improve the financial position of Bus Átha Cliath.